Edwidge Danticat | Critical Review by Jordana Hart

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Edwidge Danticat.
This section contains 760 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jordana Hart

Critical Review by Jordana Hart

SOURCE: "Danticat's Stories Pulse with Haitian Heartbeat," in The Boston Globe, July 19, 1995, p. 70.

In the following review, Hart commends Danticat for providing "honest and loving portraits of Haitian people, both on the island and in the United States."

More than anything else, the storytelling of the young Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat has given the world honest and loving portraits of Haitian people, both on the island and in the United States. She has smashed the numbing stereotypes created by a barrage of media accounts of Haitian poverty, misery and death.

Danticat's debut novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, garnered international acclaim last year. In her new book, a collection of nine short stories called Krik? Krak!, she draws on her experience growing up in dictatorial Haiti as well as stories of Creole culture and myth.

Danticat, 26, a teller of stories in the truest sense, takes us heart-pounding into a breathtaking Haiti, whose culture and people are so often diminished, even disfigured, in the writings of those who do not know and love the island.

Of course, Danticat cannot avoid placing her tales within the brutal world of the tonton macoutes, Haiti's former thuggish soldiers, and the oppressive political system that until recently pushed tens of thousands of Haitians to flee the island by vessel—often only to meet their death or internment in a Florida camp.

It is the details of everyday life, however, the depth of her characters and Danticat's own love and respect for her culture that make her stories at once disturbing yet beguiling.

Like her first novel, these stories are mostly told from the perspective of women: her mother, whom she follows unseen along a New York City street only to find out she is a 'day woman,' a nanny caring for a white child; a young wife deeply in love with her husband, who kills himself by jumping out of a hot-air balloon because he's despondent that he cannot raise his family out of poverty.

Danticat tells a couple of her best stories in two voices. The first one, "Children of the Sea," is told by a young woman and also by a politically active young man, her would-be lover, who is fleeing Haiti with 36 other "deserting souls" in a rickety boat. He writes to her about the experience in a journal:

Once you have been at sea a couple of days, it smells like every fish you have ever eaten, every crab you have ever caught, every jelly fish that has ever bitten your leg. I am so tired of the smell. I am also tired of the way people on this boat are starting to stink. The pregnant girl, Celianne, I don't know how she takes it. She stares into space all the time and rubs her stomach.

With such detail, Danticat manages to place us in the midst of this terrifying voyage—the middle passage to the United States we have read about so often in news accounts—as the boat takes on water and the people are forced to throw even their most cherished belongings overboard to lighten the load. Celianne clutches her stillborn infant to her chest, he says, refusing to give her up to the sea god, Agwe.

In "New York Day Women," Danticat recounts with humor the intergenerational and cultural gaps that have developed between the older Haitian mother and her Americanized daughter, Suzette. The account is set off in unusual paragraphs, some only a sentence and statement long, as Suzette recalls her mother's quirks.

"My mother … sews lace collars on my company softball T-shirts when she does my laundry," Suzette recounts.

"Why, you can't look like a lady when you play softball?"—obviously a retort from her mother.

In "Nineteen Thirty-Seven," a story wrapped in haunting folklore about winged women who escape a Dominican massacre, a girl visits her mother in a Port-au-Prince prison, jailed for life for being a "lougarou, witch, criminal." The mother has been wrongly accused of killing a child with witchcraft.

Before the prisoners go to sleep, the guards force them to throw cups of cold water on one another so that their bodies cannot generate enough heat to grow "those wings of flames, fly away in the middle of the night, slip into the slumber of innocent children and steal their breath."

In the storytelling tradition of Haiti, the children ask "Krik?" urging the stories to begin, and the elders reply "Krak!" and tell the fables "so that the young ones will know what came before them." This is very much what Danticat, as a child and now as a writer, has done.

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This section contains 760 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jordana Hart
Literature Criticism Series
Critical Review by Jordana Hart from Literature Criticism Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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